"He's going to get himself fucking killed," I heard someone shout from the boat.I threw on my mask and hopped into the water to catch up and send him back to the boat. Somewhere not all that far below us, an extremely agitated 2.1 meter hammerhead shark was attacking the chum line.This was the moment we were waiting for, the very reason we'd traveled from Alberta, Canada to the Florida Keys: to bring Ennett face to face with a shark. But it was also the moment that our dive master, Ken Holliday, had feared.You see, Ennett has no arms, no legs. He's essentially just a torso."Honestly, it freaks me out a bit," Holliday said the day before, while we sat around a Florida pool. "He looks like a chum bucket."Ennett overheard Holliday's remark, then lowered his head and took a sip from the straw stuck in the beer balancing on his powerchair."He's got a point," Ennett replied, and broke into a deep laugh.Videos by Mack Lamoureux
'SCUBA DIVING IS NOT A WHEELCHAIR SPORT'A 22-year-old Canadian from Edmonton, Ennett has lived almost his entire life as a quadruple amputee. When he was five, he was diagnosed with Meningococcal Septicemia—a combination of Meningitis and Sepsis. The sepsis bacteria were making their way from his extremities toward his torso and if they'd reached his vital organs, the condition most certainly would have killed him. There was no real choice: To save his life, all four of Ennett's limbs had to be amputated.Ennett has a shock of dark hair, an unkempt beard, and is perpetually sporting a pair of dark sunglasses. He's currently enrolled in his second year of psychology—focusing his research on perceptions of disabled people—and hopes one day to get his PhD. It only takes a few words with Ennett to realize that his disability isn't even close to being his defining characteristic.
Ennett cringed when he heard those words, but still smiled and offered a thank you.
'I'M JUST OPERATING HERE'All his life Ennett has been called "an inspiration," and because of his show, he is hearing the term more than ever these days. That's thanks in no small part to the proliferation of what is known to some as "inspiration porn." The most common form is a well-intentioned meme or a brief viral video about someone with a disability overcoming some sort of adversity, typically packaged with nauseatingly sweet music that swells toward the climax.The late Australian comedian, journalist, and disability advocate Stella Young wrote about the phenomenon in an essay for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
There is a weariness in Ennett's voice when he talks about people calling him an inspiration. He told me about a time about where a young woman came up to him and said, "Oh you're that inspirational young guy, aren't you?""I kept waiting for her to say that she saw me on TV or in one of the interviews I've done for a magazine," he said. "And she was like, 'No, you were walking down Jasper Ave.' I thought, what the fuck? I just get attributed with that even though I'm just functioning day-to-day and people are like 'you're an inspiration.'
"Let me be clear about the intent of this kind of inspiration porn; it's there so that non-disabled people can put their worries into perspective. So they can go, 'Oh well if that kid who doesn't have any legs can smile while he's having an awesome time, I should never, EVER feel bad about my life.' It's there so that non-disabled people can look at us and think, Well, it could be worse… I could be that person."
"It's not exactly insulting. It's endearing in a strange way," he said. "I mean, there's no basis for it, it's uncalled for, but I'm not going to lose it on them. I count my lucky stars that I never lost [my limbs] in an IED explosion or something. 'War veteran' is infinitely more tragic than my case, when it happened really young."I had the time to adapt to it. If you're a soldier and you're used to functioning with your limbs properly and one day when you're without, it's just a different situation."But he is inspiring. And it's because he constantly pushes the boundaries of both himself and other people's perceptions. Early on in the trip I asked Ennett what he wanted to do in future seasons of the show."I just want to see how far we can take it," he said."How far people will let us take it."
'WE'RE GOING TO NEED A BETTER BOAT…'The day after Ennett's certification, we all found ourselves sitting around a table trying to plan how the hell to get Ennett in the water with some sharks. Who would have thought that getting someone to take a limbless man out on a shark dive would be so difficult?The dive that we booked seemed to have some issues. The biggest and most pressing was that the cage was too small, and everyone other than Ennett and his dive team would simply have to be outside of the cage. I would be shark bait. Nevertheless, we headed out before daybreak and early the next morning found our guides Bryce and Rochelle waiting next to a boat that gave off the aura of the ill-fated fishing boat the Orca, from Jaws. It was just decrepit enough to feel like the proper boat for a shark dive.